Limited Edition Prints

No image with this post today, as I am traveling for my day job…

But nevertheless, I have been thinking about this whole issue of Limited Edition prints for photographers, versus Open Edition prints. Does one or the other really make sense? Having made my first Limited Edition print back in the 1980’s, it’s was not a good experience for me. More about that in a moment.

Before discussing the technology aspect of Limited Edition prints, I am very well aware of the economics driven by the galleries. That it is if something is rare, not infinite, then the value will increase. But the collary to that is there has to be “demand” because no matter how few there are, if no one wants it, the value will be very low.

So as an artist, why would I consider either of these? Okay, the argument for Limited Edition prints with today’s technology. In the past the limited editions were made by etching or true lithographic stones. As a result of the the edition being made (pulled), the stone or plate started to wear.  As the plates began to wear, the resulting images began to change and not appear as the artist’s original intent. Thus the desire to have an early number in a Limited Edition print, as the plate was pristine and the image was exactly as the artist intended.

Fast forward to digital inkjet printing. A print today is exactly like the one yesterday and will be like the one tomorrow, right? Yes and no. If I look at a really short time span like a month or so, the process looks very stable. But what are the potential variables that can change that would effect a print today that might make it look different in a year? The answer is to look back and see the rapid changes in the inkjet printing process, my current “printing process”. The changes include the number of available “black” inks (now three on the Epson), the ink droplette size (more refinement), the K3 ink itself (incresed durability/longevity), ablitity to eliminate tonal shifts (maintain color neutrality). Now add in new printing papers or the obsolescence of a paper or changes in how a paper is made. Add to this the controls available today in the software options, creating my images in 16 bit versus 8 bit. Or the source of my image, be it a scanned negative or digital capture, when it was not too long ago there were 2 Mp JPEGs and that was it.

Thus I can argue, that if I were to make a Limited Edition of X prints, that they would be unique to this peroid in time. I am very sure that if I had made a Limited Edition series with the available digital printing materials in 2000, that what I can do today could make that same image look very different. So my cavet for a Limited Edition photoraphic print is to print the entire edition at the same time. If I were to choose to print on demand, I may end of having the Edition with too many variables. I print now with an Epson 4800 and for some reason, it were to become totally toasted, more than likely, I would be probably buying the Epson 3800 for a replacement. From what I understand about the 3800 is that it has a different ink particle size than the 4800, thus effectively creating a slightly different print.

So what was my past experience that causes me concerns? In the mid-80’s I made a Limited Edition of my favorite image at the time. Because of the cost of silver then, the graded papers were not very flexible for push/pull development. Long story short, I made a custom print development formulation to achieve a grade 2-1/2 and then made 25 each 16×20 silver geletin prints. But this was a complicated printing with a lot of dodging and burning, and at the end of the day I had only 5 prints that were acceptable. Thus my final Edition was 5. I now know of where only one of these prints is (matted and framed hanging in my living room). Also in the spirit of a Limited Edition, I destroyed the negative; literally cut it up or what an etcher would call “canceling the plate”.

My problem is that now I wish I had that negative, because of what I feel that I could do now with that same image in Photoshop and print on the Epson. I think that I made a great print in my wet darkroom, but if my current experience holds, I could have made an excellent print today. So do I want to limit my future creative opportunities by my current technologies? That is one of my questions…..

Best regards, Doug

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